The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning to arrive or to come. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1).
During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
Today, Advent is overshadowed by Christmas itself, but not the Christmas that Christians should know and celebrate. It is a Christmas created and marketed by businesses. As early as post Halloween, stores stock up their shelves with greens and reds, and on the radio, a station already plays Christmas songs. The time for preparation that Advent was purposefully laid out for has now become an excuse to start shopping and start worrying about what latest toy or gadget would make the best Christmas present ever.
Stores are stocking up for items, fifty percent of which will not be sold, and the rest put back into storage space for next year, if they are still trendy. This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales were down because people have now switched to purchasing online, so more items on the shelves weren’t sold at all.
What makes the whole season all the more commercialized and materialistic is that Christmas songs that are meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is being used in advertisements as a song that waits for Santa Claus. One recent commercial uses the song, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” about the child Jesus’ birth, a song where the characters wait for the fat man in red.
Sadly, society has become one that does not adhere to truths, and it has lost its respect for certain religious traditions and celebrations meant to be a sacred one. If one thinks about it, no one has ever commercialized Hannukah, Kwanzaa or Ramadan, although commercialism is slowly creeping into Diwali and Vaisakhi in supermarkets and produce stores. Christmas has become so commercialized that it has already lost its meaning.
Advent is the biggest casualty of the madness. In stores everywhere, you would see Advent calendars with Disney, Barbie, Lego and other commercial designs aimed to sell to children, each window filled with candies or chocolates. We are not only exposing children to the desire to want to buy more by counting down the days of shopping, but we are also exposing them to serious illnesses like high cholesterol and diabetes.
Some may think these ideas may be too far-fetched, but the whole point of advertising and commercialism is that no one should notice it upfront. The whole business of advertising is wrapped around the idea that you have to sell to the subconscious, not the conscious. For the last fifty years or so, it’s been working really well.
So, what do we do to truly celebrate Advent? What is it really calling us to do?
To wait patiently, in silence, in great expectation, and in prayer.